Activist Report from Inside the Caterpillar Shareholder Meeting


I just left the annual stockholder meeting of the Caterpillar Corporation that took place this year at the Marriot Riverwalk Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. I spoke before the company’s CEO and Board of Directors as a proxy shareholder on behalf of the largest Jewish-American peace group, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and other religious organizations.

More important activity was going on outside the hotel  (see pictures at left) with a locally organized demonstration to raise attention of Caterpillar’s presence in San Antonio and the community’s response to CAT’s role in human rights abuses against Palestinians under Israeli occupation and Latin@/migrant communities along the US/Mexico border and throughout the US.

Below is the full text of my speech in support of shareholder “Proposal 8” behind which activists from JVP, the US Campaign to End the Occupation and other groups used their shares in the company to push a company-wide vote, as they’ve year after year for several years. The proposal, entitled “Review of Global Corporate Standards,” urges CAT to adopt a review and public reporting of the company’s worldwide business practices, and to extend policies reaching to all their dealers to “conform more fully with international human rights and humanitarian standards”. An advance poll of showed at least 21% of all shareholders voted for the proposal.

Financial giant TIAA-CREF, which invests more than $1 billion in Caterpillar, was nowhere to be found in the meeting. Due to their commitment to serving the “greater good,” they should have been there to raise concerns about CAT’s role in US-Israeli human rights abuses. The “We Divest” campaign, representing a broad coalition of TIAA-CREF investors (many of whom are educators and health workers) and students across the US, is taking T-CREF to task nationally. From Arizona, where I’m from, to New York, the campaign is only picking up strength and speed.

Today, the amount of public outreach and education on CAT’s human rights record in the context of the meeting ensured that we won another steady victory before I walked into the room or the demonstration outside began.  And we’ll keep on winning until Caterpillar stops doing its part to enable Israeli violence against Palestinians and Latiin@ peoples.

Speech: CAT Shareholder Meeting, June 13, 2012

San Antonio, TX

Board members, Mr. CEO, fellow shareholders:

Good morning.  My name is Gabriel Matthew Schivone, I am a student from Tucson, AZ; I am speaking today as an authorized shareholder in favor of Proposal 8, on behalf of Jewish Voice for Peace and a robust coalition of religious organizations.

As a company, we claim that we cannot control what our dealers do with our equipment.  And yet, in 2010, we issued a clear directive to all our dealers worldwide to avoid sales that are even likely to end up for use in the State of Iran.  Why single out Iran without having a universal policy in place to apply human rights standards evenly across the globe?  I remind us that companies like ours didn’t want to single out South Africa during apartheid; companies opted for general policies which, in turn, they were compelled to apply to South Africa through divestment.

Without a general policy, as proposal 8 stipulates, we’re vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy.  For example, Israel has a far worse human rights record than Iran and is engaged in its 45th year of military occupation and settlement of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and crucially uses armies of our bulldozers to do it.  This opens us up to more criticism of hypocrisy.

It also opens us up to legal action.  I remind everyone here of the example that eminent New York District Judge Shira Scheindlin made out of IBM Systems in 2009 when their lawyers used our exact same argument in court. The South African apartheid regime used IBM equipment in ways that contributed to international crimes including unlawful killings, like those for which our company equipment has been used by the Israeli military against Palestinians and a young American college student.  The IBM lawyers said the company was not responsible for how their clients used their products, just as we say it today.  Judge Scheindlin sharply retorted: “That level of willful blindness in the face of crimes in violation of the law of nations cannot defeat an otherwise clear showing of knowledge that the assistance IBM provided would directly and substantially support apartheid.”  I’ll repeat that phrase.  “Willful blindness.”  Willful blindness—remember that.

For these reasons, last week, members of the student senate of the largest public university in the United States, Arizona State University (ASU), announced their unanimous vote demanding divestment from companies supporting the Israeli occupation, including Caterpillar.  Other student bodies have taken similar actions and dozens of divestment campaigns throughout US schools are underway.  But this is not just a bunch of young, rapscallion kids (like me) throwing a ruckus without a cause.  The Quaker Friends Fiduciary financial services organization just divested nearly $1 million of our stock due to their “zero tolerance for weapons and weapons components.”  The Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission for Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) is recommending full divestment from us at their General Assembly later this month for our participation in the Israeli occupation.

Returning to the university market, it’s not just students calling us out on the carpet.  The University of Arizona (UA) is, as many of us know, a key part of our mining industry.  A few years ago, we donated nearly $1 million to the mining college there because we know how crucial a partner they are to us.   Well, the Dean of the Engineering College which controls a contract with us actually expressed regret in the school paper in 2010 about our deal when he found out about the accusations against us carried forth by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, even the United Nations.  He said that had officials within his mining department known this information they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in—namely, maintaining the contract.  More than that, the corporate monitoring board of the university’s Faculty Senate expressed “grave concerns” with the Caterpillar contract due to the “compelling international evidence” against us—indeed of our “wrongdoing.”  This is all very damning and damaging.  Now multiply it all over the country and beyond, and then multiply that by previous and subsequent years (i.e. the future).  It can’t hold.  In the long term, it’s bad policy that will come back to haunt us more than its haunting us already.  And I can promise you that.

To conclude:  We’re here in San Antonio, TX, in the heart of the US/Mexico borderlands.  Our equipment is being used to harm Latin@ and migrant communities.  This has been documented in local newspapers such as the Arizona Daily Star and by the excellent photojournalist, Maurice Sherif, who reported from right here in South Texas of Caterpillar equipment used to illegally destroy people’s treegroves to make way for the violent border wall that is helping kill hundreds of migrants every year by pushing them into the “mortal danger” of the most “hazardous” areas of the border (through Arizona), according to US Border Patrol planners.  And we’re helping that.

I think of Ken Fleck who was one of our engineers for some 30 years.  Ken loved Caterpillar for how well our company treated him through the years.  After he died he left his owning share in the company to his daughter and son, Nancy and Jack—who incidentally reside in US/Mexico border states.

Nancy, Jack and I are among those who are increasingly supporting such efforts of divestment from our own company until the company stands on the right side of history.  I support divestment from our company; I support legal action against our company—anything necessary to move us toward supporting human rights.

I move for supporting Proposal 8.

Thank you.

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